Ministers announce opportunity areas 'twinning' project to help address impact of Covid-19

The government’s 12 social mobility opportunity areas will be “twinned” with places facing similar challenges in an effort to help disadvantaged pupils recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been announced.

Michelle Donelan, the minister in charge of the project, announced today that £1 million of the project’s £18 million in funding for 2020-21 will be ringfenced to support the twinning activity.

The opportunity areas are West Somerset, Norwich, Blackpool, North Yorkshire Coast, Derby, Oldham, Bradford, Doncaster, Fenland and East Cambridgeshire, Hastings, Ipswich and Stoke-on-Trent. It is not yet known which areas they will twin with.

The original policy was announced in 2016 by then education secretary Justine Greening. Initially the 12 areas were given £72 million in funding for three years up to August 2020, but the government announced last November it was allocating a further £18 million for a fourth year.

Priorities for the fourth year include early speech and language development and teacher recruitment and retention, but the 12 areas will also be helping pupils “catch up on lost learning time” during partial school closures, the government said.

According to the Department for Education, many of the opportunity areas had already put catch-up plans in place, including funding for holiday clubs, online English and maths tutoring, career and work opportunities and support for children at risk of exclusion.

Donelan said: “Around the country, the response to the pandemic has been heroic, and each of the 12 opportunity areas has co-ordinated its approach to help those who need it most respond to immediate challenges.

“Now as we chart a course to recovery, we will build on the programme’s success so far to benefit young people in new areas and level up their life chances.

“We know that we can tackle these barriers more effectively when we come together across our different policy areas and by harnessing the expertise and experience of these dedicated professionals.”

The government has also today confirmed how much each opportunity area will get in the fourth year of the project.

The largest beneficiary will be Blackpool, with almost £2 million, while the smallest amount goes to West Somerset, with just under £1 million.

The allocations are as follows:

Blackpool £1,970,000

Bradford £1,730,000

Derby £1,430,000

Doncaster £1,440,000

Fenland and East Cambridgeshire £1,430,000

Hastings £1,250,000

Ipswich £1,450,000

Norwich £1,460,000

North Yorkshire Coast £1,200,000

Oldham £1,580,000

Stoke-on-Trent £1,670,000

West Somerset £980,000